After years of frustration and controversy, a sense of harmony befitting Keswick Island’s pristine scenery is returning.
- For the first time in years, accommodation for visitors has opened on Keswick Island
- The island’s developer, China Bloom, has been criticised for its environmental conduct and approach to tourism
- Residents say the situation has improved greatly this year
The island, off the coast of Mackay, was acquired by developer China Bloom in 2019.
Since then the company’s environmental conduct and closed-off stance toward visitors had angered long-time residents and sparked protests.
But a year on from the peak of the tension, accommodation options are opening up and residents say things are turning around.
From ‘keep out’ to ‘book now’
Twelve months ago, “Keep Out” signs on the island’s shores warned off visitors and tourism was essentially non-existent.
In January, boaties flocked to the island in protest as questions were raised about the foreign management of Australian islands.
But property owner Greg Chappell said residents’ relationship with island management and its approach to tourism had “improved out of sight”.
“It’s exciting times and happy days for Keswick Island,” he said.
Scott Wilkinson was appointed as an island caretaker earlier this year to help improve relationships and the direction of the island, still under China Bloom’s ownership.
“It’s about that level of communication between head leaseholder, management, and the sublease holders,” he said.
Mr Wilkinson said access to the island was one of residents’ greatest concerns, but that issues surrounding the closure of a boat ramp had been resolved.
Room for improvement
Last year, residents said China Bloom stopped them from renting out their own homes as short-stay holiday accommodation.
Resident James Asbury said that had since changed and communication had improved, but as far as opening the island up to the rest of Australia, there was still a way to go.
“There’s a shortfall with regard to flying aircraft in,” Mr Asbury said.
“They do have a ferry but it only runs on a Monday and Friday, so it does make it difficult for people to come on and off the island.
“We hope that will be reinstated again.”
Mr Wilkinson said management was looking into that.
“We do land helicopters every couple of days,” he said.
“We’re just looking for a commercial partner for fixed wing access.”
‘A good start’
With a twice-weekly ferry operating and accommodation opening up for the first time in years, Mackay Tourism chief executive Tas Webber said access issues were easing.
“It hasn’t been great, but the success is in how we’ve turned it around,” he said.
“It’s a good start for the island to open up.
“We’re seeing a better working relationship with all parties, so we’re able to get visitors onto the island and showcase it the way it should be showcased.”